The latest government announcement has given primary heads a clear indication that they could be opening their doors to more pupils from 1st June. As restrictions are eased following the COVID-19 lockdown, schools are expecting a phased return of pupils, with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 being the first to resume onsite lessons.

This is not a return to school as we know it and there will be no one size fits all. Senior leaders know their schools better than anyone and the decisions they make in the coming days and weeks will be the right ones for their pupils, parents and staff. So, what do primary heads need to be thinking about as they shape the new normal for teaching and learning when the school gates open more widely?

What Schools Need to Think About Now

Prioritise Children’s Wellbeing

Many children have been out of the traditional routine of school for some time. They may be fearful of catching the virus from others, anxious about the learning they have missed or grieving after losing loved ones to the pandemic. A focus on children’s wellbeing is the essential first step to enabling learning to take place. Things to think about:

  • Consider deploying a member of staff to be responsible solely for pastoral care. They can work alongside your Designated Safeguarding Lead and Special Educational Needs Coordinator to ensure that children get the help they need to engage in, and progress, with their learning.
  • Look at CPD opportunities for staff coming back to school to help them prepare for changes – you may need to redefine roles and responsibilities in the weeks and months ahead.
  • Make sure staff have access to the latest contact information for parents and carers.
Consider a Blended Learning Approach

Social distancing will be a feature in schools as you welcome pupils back, so you might want to introduce a blended approach to learning where teachers plan learning using a mixture of face to face in school, followed up by online work to reinforce learning for pupils at home. So, how could it work?

  • Consider how you can physically accommodate the number of children you will have in school on any one day to manage social distancing requirements
  • Divide children into learning groups – the government’s current recommendation is for a maximum of 15 children in a group – and accommodate them in different classrooms.
  • Plan your staffing – you will need teachers available to support pupils once they return to the classroom.
  • If you have vulnerable staff who cannot come into school, could you utilise them in supporting those pupils who are learning at home on the days they are not in school, or if they are unable to return for whatever reason?
Plan Changes to The School Day

It will be necessary to minimise contact between staff and parents/carers and maximise learning time for pupils. So, you could:

  • Allocate a meeting place outside the school gates where teachers can escort the children into and out of school, adhering to the latest guidance on social distancing. Factor in additional time for pupil transfers to take place in a calm and orderly way.
  • Reprioritise curriculum goals by defining what should be learned during the lockdown period and adjusting for a blended delivery – focus on the most critical elements of the curriculum and simplified lesson plans that can be supported easily by parents.
  • Start planning the policies you will need to put in place to manage social distancing, meal and play times. You will need time to communicate these to staff and parents in advance of the school gates opening. Liaise with governors on changes that have budgetary implications.

What Schools Need To Think About Next

Communicate With Parents

There will be some parents who are concerned about sending their children back to school and many will have questions, so plan your communications strategy. Things to think about:

  • Parents will want to know when their child will be returning to school and what they can continue to do at home to support their learning, so provide clear and timely guidance on this.
  • Let parents know what steps they should take if their child or a member of their household develops Coronavirus symptoms. This will reduce the number of calls coming into the school office and enable staff to focus more of their time on teaching and learning.
  • Plan a regular progress update for parents – they will be concerned about their child and how they are doing in school.

For The Longer-Term

Once you’ve established a successful home learning programme, why not keep it going? In the event that we see a spike in Coronavirus cases or the return to a more restricted lockdown, your school will be in a stronger position to provide the continuity pupils need to progress in their learning.

Schools across the country have shown great creativity in their response to this crisis, which underlines the commitment the sector has to doing the very best for each and every child, no matter the circumstances.

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Kathryn Day

Kathryn Day

After leaving behind careers in the wine trade and archaeology, Kathryn Day has worked in various education roles across both primary and secondary for nearly 20 years. She’s been a secondary ICT teacher and subject leader, a local authority computing adviser, a local authority school improvement adviser and a primary school deputy headteacher. Kathryn is Director of Training and Development at Juniper Education.

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